The Isuzu & Maserati – A Response

by on February 10, 2007

A few weeks ago, Mark Uehling, a writer for ClinPage.com, wrote an article called “Google Analytics v. Sawmill: Reports From Web-based Tools.” This article can be read by clicking here. Although not a bad article about the two technologies, I found it to be missing some insight. The end result is the following response.

The impact that web-based analytic tools have on any business’ marketing performance whether it be by more traditional means or new trends such as Adwords, Blogs, Podcasts, Video Blogs, and of course, teetering on the edge of traditional and new, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) are undoubtedly important whether it be Pharma related or not.

Although the two analytics tools compared in your article, Google Analytics and Sawmill, no-doubt have many unique strengths and weaknesses, there are many aspects of the products that have to be considered beyond interacting with the tool’s interfaces.

Understanding Google

In a nutshell, Google wants to rule the world through the Internet in the same way that Microsoft currently rules the world through desktop applications and operating systems. The difference is Google’s business model is more driven by a unique balance of pay-for services (ex. Commission from Adwords) and free services. Whereas, even though Microsoft has many free Internet services (ex. Hotmail) almost every piece of its desktop software are significantly priced and designed to be feature dependent on other Microsoft applications. Google therefore is trying to alleviate many of those continuing pressures created by Microsoft and other such commercial companies by offering free or low cost alternatives to the mainstream applications.

A few Google Applications & their commercial counterparts:

Google Analytics Omniture SiteCatalyst
Google Picasa Adobe Photoshop Elements
Google Docs & Spreadsheets Microsoft Word & Excel

The key is to understand the difference between “commercial” and “free,” how the technology integrates with a website, and who the target market is for the analytic platforms.

Cost of Features

Keeping in the scope of the original topic, web-based analytics tools, many features are mentioned in the original article for both Google Analytics and Sawmill. The ultimate conclusion of the article was that Sawmill was a superior product. This can be debated back and fourth because it really all depends on what’s important to the minds behind a website. In Clinpage’s case, perhaps it is the best option. For the sake of argument, let’s continue with the original conclusion that it is the superior product.

One thing that might not have been realized is that even though Sawmill might seem free because of it being included with Clinpage’s web hosting package, it is indeed a commercial grade software. Sawmill being a software that can cost anywhere from a single license “Lite” edition at $99.00 to an

Enterprise edition with unlimited licenses for $30,000.00. On the other hand, Google is free. (It is probable that Clinpage has access to the mid-level Professional edition)

This being the case alone, wouldn’t it be natural to assume that there would be far more features or superior features with Sawmill? It’s no different if you were to look at the other above mentioned Google applications versus their commercial counterparts. Picasa isn’t going to have the same powerful filters that Photoshop Elements has nor will Docs & Spreadsheets have the advanced functionality of Word & Excel such as XML integration.

Analytic Integration

One of the continuing problems with all Analytic platforms is how they integrate with a website and determine their outputs. Simply put, no one has come along yet to create a standard.

In this case, the platforms of Google Analytics and Sawmill are distinctly unique and therefore cause many difference in their output just do to the nature of how they are integrated.

Google Analytics depends on a small JavaScript file being included on every page of a website just below a page’s aesthetic footer. The file itself is hosted by Google and is being called upon by the site. This is the method that Google uses to retrieve the analytics. Google’s JavaScript then stores the data collected in a massive database. On the other hand, Sawmill is an application that is installed on the server of where the website resides itself. Therefore, it can read the data live because there is ultimately no transmission of data. It is all stored in log files on the host computer which only needs to be interpreted when accessed by the server’s user.

Now, there are a few ups and downs to each of these. For one, having JavaScript on the page means there is potential that it isn’t collecting data because it might not load or a person might have JavaScript disabled. On the other hand, not using the JavaScript method means that the analytics from a server side could be significantly skewed because it is tracking bots as well as human users. Bots can’t read JavaScript so that problem is automatically nullified. And there are likely more bots hitting web pages then there are users without the ability to see a JavaScript file.

It Wasn’t Free

The counter argument to seeing Google Analytics as a free application comes in knowing the history of how Google Analytics came to be.

In the not so distant past there was a software company called the Urchin Software Corporation with a line of Analytics software under the Urchin name. This product had several versions much like how Sawmill has a “Lite” version and an

Enterprise version. Google acquired the company in April 2005.

The Google Analytics that people have come to know today was once known as Urchin On-Demand. In addition to that, Urchin had a version that could be purchased and installed directly on the server (which actually still exists today by purchasing through “Google Analytics Authorized Consultants”). Urchin’s price for the on-demand service was about $500.00 a month, which most would agree was steep. When Google introduced Google Analytics, the original price was $199.00 and eventually became a free service.

Google Analytics therefore is no doubt in the leagues of a commercial grade analytics platform even though it is free. So why would one be perceived to be weaker then the other? Especially considering the fact that in all actuality Google Analytics and Urchin were both far more costly than Sawmill.

On one hand purchasing a single copy of Sawmill that runs on your own server could be as cheap at $99.00. On the other, the cost of Google Analytics was $199.00 a month.

Target Markets

As far as analytics technology goes in its current state, there are three major grades of product. There are server grade analytics, small to medium business grade analytics, and enterprise/marketing level analytics. Throughout this article there have been two major analytic platforms focused on and one other barely mentioned.

Sawmill falls into the category of a server grade analytic platform. It is installed on the server and is intended to provide a high level view of the people accessing the site and leaves a great deal of interpretation and meaning up to the user of the technology. If you have a radio campaign for a specific drug running in

Quebec, you will be able to recognize an increase of traffic from that area. You might even be able to tell in general how long the average person stayed in your site and what pages they went to from your advertised home page.

Google Analytics falls in your small to medium business solution. Not only does it do a great deal of the analytics that is provided with Sawmill, it provides the ability to track marketing campaigns using Google Adwords. In addition to tracking AdWord clicks, it tracks conversions, the average cost per conversion, and other such analytics which are extremely important to any small business selling a few items from their website. That’s where the $199.00 a month value comes in. Sure, some of the direct server analytics are sacrificed (and a good deal of that is because of the JavaScript vs. Server integrations mentioned above), but knowing how a user travels through a website in terms of a marketing campaign is extremely important when selling. This gives users a very mid-level view of a site’s traffic and users.

This brings us to the true Maserati, Omniture SiteCatalyst. SiteCatalyst is definitely the premiere choice for any enterprise level business whether they are doing intense online marketing, more traditional methods of marketing, or simply trying to determine how users of sophisticated online applications navigate. For one, the technology provides the sort of site analytics that Sawmill provides with little error. It logs statistics using a combined method of the JavaScript mentioned above and using masked links that channel directly through Omniture before taking users to their designation on the web. Therefore, it not only integrates with Google Analytics but pretty much every form of online advertising. This can span from text based ads, to banners, to e-mail campaigns. The amount of information accumulated by SiteCatalyst is robust enough to give a very high level view of a site’s effectiveness or a drill down to a site’s individual user.

Conclusion

The question posed by all of this was if this technology could be harnessed for a clinical data management. Or, what would be the best analytics system for a clinical organization?

To start with the second question, the answer is a bit tricky. The best analytics system for a clinical organization all depends on the organizations size and individual marketing strategies. Small biotechs, pharmas, consultants, and the like might only need a product like Sawmill to determine content effectiveness in a website on a high level view. Larger pharmaceuticals and industries are most likely using a mid-level solution like Google Analytics. Despite the physical size of these pharmas, they are not traditionally known for bait and hook online marketing tactics such as major online retailers. Interestingly enough, Google provides a white paper about Roche’s experience with Google Analytics. So where does that leave opportunity for the likes of Omniture? It is likely there are a few of the top Pharmas using high end analytics like Omniture already but as it currently stands, it likely serves little purpose since its greatest use is to online retailers. In other words, there would be little to no ROI on having such a platform.

Going back answering the first of these two questions, it’s rather simple. The more that clinical data management moves to total web based systems, the more opportunity there is for analytics systems most commonly used for marketing be used to track the importance of relevant data in the industry. Possibly just as important, the analytics could be used to track how a user uses the tool managing the data which would allow for the designers of the data management tool to create better usability and therefore create better efficiency in the pharma workplace. This is where potential for systems like Omniture to have relevance in the industry.

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